What is propaganda? What does propaganda look like in a liberal electoral democracy? How is the controversy over curriculum, African American AP classes, book-banning, the targeting of gender non-conforming young people and their families, and the censorship of learning by Florida politicians and others across the United States being circulated using propagandistic methods?
In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Edward Herman, and Noam Chomsky explain, "The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda."
Considering propaganda in a liberal electoral democracy is more prescient given the recent revelations that Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch worked hand in hand with the Trump administration and Trump family members to discredit the 2020 elections, downplay the January 6 treasonous attack on the US capital, and circulate and amplify the big lie.
This post highlights two films, the first film, Why We Fight, was commissioned by The Office of War Information (OWI) and produced by famous Hollywood filmmaker Frank Capra. It was initially created to be shown to new enlistees to rally the troop morale for WWII. It was later released to the US public and shown in theaters across the United States.
According to John Karush from the US Army Military History Institute, "OWI was designed to use mass communication to sell the war and the reasons for the massive mobilization to stop the German Nazi and Japanese Imperial armies. OWI was created to define our perception of reality, the reality of a world at war. Television was not yet the force in entertainment that it is today, so most individuals learned about world events by listening to the radio or reading the newspaper. OWI Films brought the stories of war to life on the big screen."
Eighty years ago, on March 4, 1943, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences awarded the Academy Award to Why We Fight for the Best Documentary film of 1942. "The citation reads in part, 'A special award to Prelude to War for its trenchant conception and authentic and stirring dramatization of the events which forced our nation into the war and of the ideals for which we fight.'"
The CIA produced the second film for internal agency education during the 1980s. From C-SPAN's "Reel America" series comes this fifteen-minute film, Soviet Internal Propaganda.
"This CIA film from 1985 details what the agency argued was a vast system of indoctrination in the Soviet Union which discouraged individualism and encouraged passive acceptance of Kremlin rule from cradle to grave. In 2011, the CIA's Information Management Services declassified over 200 documents regarding intelligence on the Soviet Union that the CIA provided the [Ronald] Reagan administration. Included in the release were video briefings created by the Directorate of Intelligence for policymakers."